Monthly Archives: October 2013

To Boo or Not to Boo, That is The Question

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Some of us need to agree to disagree, right outta the gate today.  There’s my disclaimer.

There’s a lot of debate among believers this time of year. Is it okay to recognize Halloween and participate in related activities? How can I show the love of Jesus and still keep Halloween fun for my kids?  How would Jesus approach Halloween?

Over the years, I’ve had this conversation with many a believer AND non-believer.  And let me just say, I’ve yet to win anyone to Christ by staunchly avoiding Halloween.  This is not that big of a deal, people. Realizing this, I am not seeking to persuade you to think like I do on the subject; I simply want to offer some food–or should I say candy–for thought.

Here’s how I operate. I love Fall. Like Lorelai Gilmore and Snow, Fall and I have a relationship. It’s not so much about Halloween as it is the season. I love everything about it: the weather, the colors, the smells, pumpkin-flavored anything.  I dress up and so do my kids. Our Bible study group even has an annual costume party.  We trick-or-treat. We eat candy, and we usually attend at least one Fall Festival at a local church, if not our own.

The way I see it is, I love Jesus. I tell others I love Him. My husband and kids love Jesus and as a family, we strive to serve Him. If my life, my actions, my words, my family’s values and priorities clearly convey true love for Jesus throughout the other 364 days in the year, then I don’t think a fun costume or jack-o-lantern on my porch one night is going to ruin all that.

I haven’t always thought this way, though.  I’ve been known as one to avoid the Halloween hullabaloo.  And unfortunately, I sometimes tend to come across to people as “holier than thou” or as a “goodie two shoes.”  This saddens me because nothing could be further from the truth.  I’m a mess, y’all.  Jessie, without the control of the Holy Spirit, is SOME-thing else.  I know this about myself and, with His help, I’m trying to grow past it.

I was recently reminded of this ugly little fact when I was told that a non-believer acquaintance of mine was shocked that I dress up for Halloween.  She couldn’t believe “little miss perfect” celebrated Halloween.  Really?  In my walk and talk, do I make others feel like my life and my beliefs are THAT unattainable?  Do I make myself or my Jesus seem THAT unapproachable?

I don’t want people to think I’m perfect, I want them to think I’m real.  So if putting on a  costume will make my love affair with Jesus more attractive, or make my walk and life seem more attainable; if it will make me “real” to people, then dress me up, Scotty!  As long as my costume is not immodest or offensive or just pure evil, I’m totally down with that.

So WWJD with Halloween?  Would he make people feel despised for donning a costume?  Would he turn over their candy buckets and run them out of the Fall Fest?  I don’t think so.

Jesus was all about doing things differently.  His teachings seemed to always go against the traditions and religious customs of the day.  He came to show us a new way, a different way than the ones we, as dirt-made humans, had devised.  He did crazy things like touch lepers and eat meals with sinful tax collectors.  He even traveled with his disciple posse to forsaken places like Samaria, where he even dared to speak to the woman at the well.

I believe Jesus is gracious and loving and powerful.  I believe He can use anything–anything–for His glory and to further His Kingdom. 

I believe He can use a jack-o-lantern for His glory.  As a family, we choose and carve a pumpkin while telling The Pumpkin Parable.  It’s a fun and easy way to share the love of Jesus and His salvation with kids.  Check out http://www.creativebiblestudy.com/christianobjectlesson-pumpkin.html to learn more about how to do this or Google “Pumpkin Patch Parable” to order a cute book to use along with your carving time.

I believe He can use fear for His purposes and our benefit.  In my post on 9/11, “12 Years Ago Today”, I said I believe God can use fear to draw us to Him.  Transfer that to Halloween.  Every year my husband, a youth pastor, takes our youth group to Hell House.  If you’ve never heard of or been to this, it’s a ministry tool like none other.  It’s similar to a spook house but the spooks are actually dramatic reenactments of scenes from real life.  Things like suicide, drug addiction, abortion.  People pass through rooms and witness the staged but real horror of these things.  Then, they take a trip to “hell”.  Our local Hell House puts you and one other person in a vertical “coffin” and closes the door.  It’s pitch black.  It’s hot.  It’s noisy with the sounds of demons screeching and people screaming.  It truly is hell, especially if you’re border-line claustrophobic like me.  You enter in one side of the coffin, after passing through a scary, hell-inspired room.  When you exit, you exit through the opposite door into a room where you see Jesus.

He’s there.  He’s bound to a pole and he’s being beaten for your sin.

After a scene portraying his death, burial and resurrection, you’re escorted by angels to The Throne Room.  And there’s Jesus again, only this time He’s in His rightful place on the throne.

Upon exiting, each group is clearly presented with The Gospel and given the opportunity to visit with a counselor.  I cannot tell you how many young people I’ve seen get their lives right with Christ after witnessing this.  I truly don’t know that I could count them all.  What I know is that if we avoided Halloween altogether, if we turned a blind eye to the season, multiple souls would miss an opportunity to make a decision of faith.

The truth is, The World is going to celebrate Halloween whether we as believers avoid it or not.  The World cannot wait to get its hands on our kids and teach them Its ways.  I want to combat that and teach our kids God’s ways, using whatever means I can.  I want what happens in my home to change the world, not the other way around. 

As long as I’m not seeking to promote evil or disrespect my Lord, I’m not sinning by participating in Halloween activities.  If I see no problem with the fun Halloween offers, if I’m not convicted by the Holy Spirit within me, then scripture says it’s okay for me to participate. In contrast, if I choose not to participate in any form of Halloween activity, that does not make me holier or more obedient than you, and I cannot judge other believers who do not share my convictions. That would be sin. (Read the Book of Romans, chapters 14-15.)

Regardless of your convictions, just love Jesus.  Love Him like crazy and the world will know where you stand.  Love your neighbor as  yourself.  Don’t get bogged down in the debate of Halloween, or Christmas trees or Easter eggs.  Just love Jesus and love people.  He’s big enough to take care of the rest.

Here’s my costume from last night’s party…

I was “A Stick in the Mud.” 😉

Happy Halloween!

Jessie

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

~ Romans 15:5-6

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Reckless

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This past weekend was incredible.  I laughed.  I cried.  I learned stuff.  I listened to Jen Hatmaker teach.  Need I say more?

YES!

I would be remiss not to share the things I learned.  And I mean learned.  I wasn’t just inspired or encourage or moved—I gained actual knowledge of things I had no idea of prior to this weekend.  In fact, some of the things I learned make scripture and the Bible make so much more sense now.  That’s big and I’m dying to share it!

First, let me just say that I am about to attempt to share JEN HATMAKER’S teaching AND I’M NOT GOING TO DO IT JUSTICE.  Okay?  I know this.  So, I pray the Holy Spirit will write this post, that He will inspire the words I type.  I trust Him to make this real for you, like He did for me.  Because He can.

Let’s start at the beginning…

 

I, along with six other girls, attended a women’s conference put on by Preston Trail Community Church in Frisco, Texas.  The theme was “Reckless: No Fear. All Faith.”  Friday night my eyes were opened to the true definition and meaning of what it means to be a DISCIPLE.  I’ve always thought of the general definition of disciple, which is to be a student, pupil or learner of a teacher.  And I’ve always thought of Jesus’ disciples, the twelve chosen to follow Him.  Jen started by explaining the educational system of Jesus’ day and time, and the system of the time leading up to His ministry on earth.  I found the following info by Steve Corn online, which pretty much sums up Jen’s explanation and sounds almost the exact same as how she described it.  Don’t skim over this–it’s going to be important!

Bet Sefer – House of the Book

In the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day kids were taught the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible) in the local Synagogue (church) beginning at the age of 6. They had classes 5 days a week just like we do today. By the time they were about 10 years old, they had memorized all of those first five books. These classes were called “Bet Sefer.” Anyway, most Jewish kids were pretty well finished with school after this and went home to learn the family trade – like fishing or carpentry or something like that.

Bet Talmud – House of Learning

Now, the kids who were really the best of the best among them were allowed to continue in school in something called “Bet Talmud.” Here, they studied all of the Hebrew Scriptures (Our Old Testament) and memorized all of them between the ages of 10-14. During this time, students also learned the Jewish art of questions and answers. Instead of answering with an answer, they were taught to answer with another question. In this way, students could demonstrate both their knowledge and their great regard for the Scriptures. They were taught to always be curious about the Scriptures. Look at how Jesus was described as a young boy in Luke 2:46-47 – “After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.

Bet Midrash – House of Study

Very few of these students ever made it this far. For the few who did there was still another set of classes called “Bet Midrash.” If you were smart enough and knew your scriptures well enough to make it this far, you were given the opportunity to go to a rabbi (teacher) to seek further education. The rabbi would grill you and ask you all kinds of questions, because he was trying to find out if you were good enough to be his student. He wanted to know if you knew enough, but even more importantly, if you could be like him in all areas of your life. If he decided that he didn’t think you could do it, then he would tell you to go back to the family business. It was very rare, but if he thought highly enough of you, he would become your teacher and it would be your goal to become like him in every way. You would agree to take on his “beliefs” and his interpretations of the scriptures. This was called his “yoke” and he would say to you, “come follow me.” This was a huge privilege that was offered to very few people. The disciple’s (also called “talmudim”) job was to become like the rabbi in every way. If the rabbi was hurt and had a limp, you might see his healthy disciples walking behind him (in his footsteps) with a limp.”

http://stevecorn.com/2010/11/jewish-educational-system/

After explaining this, Jen helped us see the contrast of Jesus’ methods when He sought out His disciples and said, “Come follow me” (Matt. 4:19, Mark 1:17).  Rabbis didn’t seek disciples out; it was the other way around.  The disciples he chose would have gone through these phases of learning, whether it be just phase one or all the way to phase three.  But what we know is that regardless of how far they went, they were not chosen by a rabbi to be a disciple.  Yet, Jesus chose them.  He sought after them.  He called them.  Doesn’t this give new meaning to verses like John 15:16 when Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you,” and every verse where Jesus calls to someone to “come follow me”?  The people of Jesus time would have taken His call on a completely different level than we do because they would have understood what it meant to be chosen, the work that would have been done and the discipline that it involved. 

We just don’t get that.  We don’t.  We look at salvation and faith and Jesus as a choice that we get to make.  And it is, don’t get me wrong.  We must choose to be devoted to Christ, to learn His ways and have a relationship with Him.  What we’re missing is the implication of The Call, the honor in being chosen by God to be a follower of His Son.  He believes we have what it takes to be His disciple!  He doesn’t “grill” us or ask us to be “good enough”—that’s called GRACE!!!  He will never decide we can’t hack it and send us packing to our family business.  Never! 

“For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight,”

Ephesians 1:4

The next point I gleaned from this explanation was about the “yoke.”  Jen explained that the yoke was basically the fine details each rabbi or teacher believed about scripture and The Law.  The yoke was basically manmade rules on top of the original rule (aka LEGALISM).  Her fictional example went like this:  Suppose one of the rules was “Do Not Dance”.  A rabbi could teach his followers his personal view on it by saying, “If you trip and fall, don’t flail your arms, lest someone mistake it for dancing.” So the rabbi would instruct his disciples to simply keep their hands at their sides and fall flat on their face.  Thus, if someone saw a guy fall and land flat on his face without trying to use his hands to catch himself, they would be able to identify that guy as a disciple of Rabbi No Flail.  Get the picture?  A disciple was identified as belonging to a certain teacher by the way he upheld his teacher’s yoke.

But Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,

and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”

Matthew 11:29-30

Whoa.  How many times have you heard this scripture taught with the analogy of an ox and the yoke that was used to carry his load?  That explanation always made a little sense to me, but this description completely changes everything about that verse and clarifies so much for me.  This is how the people Jesus was face to face with would have received his words.  He was saying, “Hey guys, I’m not going to make this thing called ‘life’ harder for you.  I’m gonna make it light!  You don’t have to keep all these rules and regulations anymore, if you’re My disciple.  You don’t have to worry about pleasing people anymore.  Come, follow me!”

Being a Jesus Follow and Disciple is a pretty awesome thing, now that I think about it in this light.  It’s like I have new eyes as I read scripture.  And this was just on the first night!  Saturday started off with some great testimonies from real women, about their real lives and stories of how God was calling them to be reckless for Him.  And then Jen spoke again.  I tell ya, I could listen to that girl talk for hours.  At the end of each session, I found myself thinking, “It can’t be over already?!”

The first session Saturday morning was based on Mark 2:22.  Jesus said, “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins.  If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined.  No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.” 

So, new wine expands as it ferments.  Old wineskins have no give, no flexibility and are unable to stretch.  Therefore, new wine + old wineskins = a big fat mess that’s good for no one.  New wineskins have give, they stretch and they allow room for the expansion. 

Transfer that info to people.  Jesus is the wine.  He is good and He is always doing something new.  (Scripture is full of references to the “newness” of God.)  As believers, we are the wineskins because we are containers of the wine.  We know Jesus and have his love, his light, his power inside us.  As containers of The Wine, we have to stretch. 

Jen spouted out some staggering numbers about The Church in our country. 

  • Some 80,000-100,000 people leave the church per month.
  • 3 out of 10 adults in their 30’s are even loosely connected to a church.
  • Only 35% of the people in our culture are a believer—which means 65% of people do not believe.

Jen and her husband, Brandon, decided to stop debating the data and admit that numbers don’t lie.  They began asking non-believers, “why won’t you come?” or “why did you leave?”  The answer they repeatedly found:  Religion.

If we as believers do not stretch or give or allow room for expansion (which means CHANGE), our churches will close their doors.  If we insist on clinging to our traditions, our “yokes”, our rigid, unyielding beliefs that have nothing to do with Christ and everything to do with our comfort, the wine will be ruined, destroyed, and it will destroy the container. 

We need to ask ourselves, our churches, where am I inflexible?  Where am I unable to stretch?  Is it with outsiders?  Other people groups that are not part of my circle, people who make me feel uncomfortable?  Or is it with insiders?  People within the church who don’t believe like I do or who rejected me or hurt me at some point?

We need to create safety for people to just be.  Be themselves.  Be real.  That’s why they’re afraid of us and our “religion”.  Our Jesus is not scary.  He is safe and gentle and easy and comfortable.  He sought after and surrounded himself with the misfits, the outsiders, the rejects, the addicts.  He was their friend and they were dear to him, not because they offered something to him in return, but just because they were.  We need to see the lost world, the hurting souls around us as “dear” because that’s how Jesus sees them.

Jen told a story about a neighbor she had befriended who was not a believer.  Jen had purposely not told the neighbor about their church and ministry and such because she didn’t want to scare the woman off.  Not because Jen is ashamed of her faith, to the contrary.  Jen and her family live in Austin, okay.  As she put it, “We are surrounded by darkness.” “People don’t get my life,” she said.  So as Jen was hanging out with her neighbor one afternoon, another one of her girlfriends joined them and “outed” her, as she put it.  Jen watched her neighbor’s countenance fall.  It crushed her.  Jen immediately and lovingly asked her neighbor to explain her reaction.  The neighbor said, “You’re a Christian?!…I don’t feel safe around you now.”

Jen was raised as a Southern Baptist preacher’s kid.  She’s “done church” her whole life.  She’s known the “rules” of church and can follow them.  But as a new wineskin, she offered this comparison to help demonstrate how we as The Church need to stretch.

  • This has been the way to become part of The Church:

o   Believe—believe, not just in our doctrinal statement, but believe just like me.

o   Belong—now that you believe, you can be one of us.

o   Behave—don’t ask weird questions, don’t have different ideas on how to do things or change things.  Just be here and fit in to what we’re doing.

  • This is how Jesus would reach our generation, to invite them into The Body:

o   Belong—build relationships with people, be a safe place for them to bring all their baggage, all their crazy.  See them as dear to you, just like Jesus does.

o   Believe—once people feel loved, safe, like they belong, they will believe Jesus loves them, that He is safe and they can belong to Him.

o   Become—become more like Christ together, walk through life together, help bear each other’s burdens.

So what do you and I need to do to become new wineskins?  Ask the Lord to show you and He will. 

The last session came way too soon.  I was so sad it was almost over when it seemed it had only just begun.  Jen focused on Luke 22:14-20, where Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples.  This was the night before his death and he said, “I have ‘desired with desire’ to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (vs. 15).  Israel was proud and protective of the Passover tradition; Jesus basically redefined it on this night, and this was a really big deal.

He said, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (vs. 19).

  • The word “Do” here literally means to make, a continuous action.  Jen said it’s like the difference between “make your bed,” a one-time event vs. “make good choices,” an ongoing action.  This verse referred to the ongoing action.
  • “Remembrance” means “to make real”. 

So what Jesus actually said in this one verse was, “don’t just do this every year; constantly do this and make this real for others.  This is MY BODY, MY BLOOD, spilled for others.  YOU are now THE BODY.”

We, as Jesus’ followers, His Body, are to be broken and poured out for others. 

Being broken and poured out for others is exhausting and painful.  If you’ve ever really tried to walk with someone who’s lost or hurting, you know this is true.  Teary 2:00 am phone calls.  Frustration when you can’t “fix it” for them.  Being available to meet physical needs, whenever necessary.  This is the work of The Body and it’s hard.  It’s not just the preacher’s “job”; it is each of our responsibility as disciples.  We are to represent Jesus and represent him well.  Not just with a smile, but with a literal helping hand, a real live hug.

When we do this, “us” and “them” becomes “we”. 

We have to take on the attitude of “we’re just gonna DO THIS!”  Start somewhere, with all your crap and imperfection.  You don’t have to get your own act together first.  JUST START!

Jen said you’ll know you’re doing it when two things happen:

  1. You feel it and it hurts
  2. You love it

So, be honest.  Tell God, “I don’t wanna do this.  Give me a heart like Yours.”  Then, move without the heart.  Be obedient.  Be reluctant, but just go. 

“We find God in the MOVEMENT, not on the sidelines.”

~Jen Hatmaker

 

This was my weekend.  Actually, this all transpired in less than 24 hours.  And it was the best way I could have chosen to spend my time.  I pray the things I learned can find meaning in your life, too.  As Jen said, I am your sister and I want to share with you what God has shared with me. 

So, what is the “reckless” thing you need to do for God?  Or, what reckless thing have you already done for God and how has it changed you?  Please share your stories!  And if you’re reading this and you also attended the conference, I’d love to know what parts of the weekend stood out to you? 

One of my “reckless” things is this very blog.  Hello?!  Who really cares what I have to say lol?  Also like Jen, I am not “qualified” to do this.  But God put it on my heart and I just said yes.  That’s all being reckless really means, saying yes to whatever God puts before you.  No fear.  All faith.

Let’s not compare our stories; let’s share and celebrate them.  Let me hear from you!

 

Jessie

“We find God in the MOVEMENT, not on the sidelines.” ~Jen Hatmaker

One of my besties, Susan, and me with Jen!

The Real Pursuit of Happiness

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The American Dream–(noun) 1. the ideals of freedom, equality and opportunity traditionally held to be available to every American.  2. a life of personal happiness and material comfort as traditionally sought by individuals in the U.S. (dictionary.com)
What?! I did not EVEN realize definition 2 actually existed in written form.  Is this how the rest of the world views America, the “Christian” nation?  How embarrassing.
This post may seem like a random Monday morning rant, but it’s not. It’s truly something that’s been on my heart for some time now, a result of reading things like Crazy Love and Seven. You see, I have always heard of and believed in The American Dream, thinking it was just definition 1. But I’ve realized definition 2 is the one 99% of us are chasing and, in my opinion, therein lies our problem.
When did it all change?  When did we allow The American Dream to outweigh God’s Desire for our lives?  Our nation?  At what point did “the pursuit of happiness” overtake the pursuit of God’s heart and the Great Commission?  When did good ‘ol hard work and self-confidence turn into entitlement and self-gratification? When did Thanksgiving become just a national holiday instead of a way of life?

We tell our kids they can be anything they want if they just put their minds to it, work hard and determine not to let anything stop them. But is that a Biblically accurate statement?  Or is that selfish ambition? Isn’t it more honest to tell them God has a plan for their life and then encourage them to seek Him and find out what that plan is? Teach them to “die to self” and pursue God’s heart?  Yes, their potential is unlimited and we want the absolute best for them. Our intentions are well meaning, but at what point do our expectations and desires for them overshadow God’s uniquely ordained plan for their life (Psalm 139:16)? What if Mary and Joseph had encouraged Jesus to be the best carpenter in town, to seek success according to human standards, instead of trusting and supporting the plan God had for him?

These days, telling our kids they can be anything they want is dangerous, scary even. We’re starting to see a generation that believes they really can grow up to do anything. Just like Snooki.

And why, as a society, do we think all kids should aspire to be doctors or lawyers or something “professional”? Why do The Haves look down their noses at those who do anything less? I don’t know about you, but when my air conditioning went out a few months ago, I didn’t call a doctor or a lawyer. We need all types of brains and jobs to keep this “life” of ours going and no one job is better than or more important than another. Yes, some jobs pay more than others. But why do we think we deserve to earn six figures a year? Does God promise us this or does The American Dream imply it?

Here’s a crazy thought: maybe The American Dream isn’t God’s plan for my life? Maybe it’s not the purpose He had in mind when He created me? Maybe it’s not God’s plan for me to have a bustling full-time career? Maybe it’s not God’s will for me to own my own home? Or drive a new car? Or have a husband, 2.3 kids and a dog? Or maybe it’s not even His plan for me to have a college education? These are by no means “bad” things to have or aspire to, but when our having and aspiring gets in the way of our believing and following, there are going to be problems. It has been said that even good things are bad things if they’re not God things

Don’t know about you, but I’m ready to call a spade, a spade. The American Dream is actually the American Lie. Satan, in his greatest deception yet, has blinded an entire nation. This “dream”—which is exactly what it is—has distracted a country once full of radical Jesus Followers. Instead of seeking God’s Will and His Best, we somehow have traded that in for Our Will and Our Best, putting our faith in the “pursuit of happiness,” that if we just work hard and put our mind to it, we can achieve whatever sort of greatness we desire. Nothing can stop me if I’m determined, I say! …Not even The Still Small Voice of God. 

We feel The American Dream must be realized and actualized in life or we must be doing something wrong. I’ve been there. There was a time that I devised a plan and chose my path to success over what I knew God was calling me to do. And I regret it. I believed I could not be happy or satisfied until I reached whatever it was I was striving for.  Whether we realize it or not, our mentality is, “I’m not successful yet and therefore, not happy yet.”  And this is no one’s fault, I’m not pointing fingers or placing blame. This is just how we’ve been as a society.

Momma has always said, “Happiness is a choice.” She even has it on a sign in her house. Happiness is not a destination, it’s a state of being. It is not something to be pursued, thank you very much Thomas Jefferson. It is a conscious decision. It is a choice I’m going to have to make if I ever truly do want to be happy. Because if I’m basing my happiness on my life circumstances, my bank account, my health, my dress size—whatever–then I’m gonna be unhappy for all but maybe 3 hours of my life.

The Truth of God’s Word makes it clear that God is not interested in my happiness. He’s most concerned with my obedience, for that is how I show my love for Him. (John 14:15)

In Mark 10 we see where Jesus was approached by a rich young man. Dude had it goin’ on. He was rich. He was successful. He had lots of Stuff.  He had been successful in his pursuit of happiness, so now he wanted to secure a seat in heaven. “Good Teacher! What must I do to go to heaven?” (Mark 10:17).  Jesus knew this guy’s heart and scripture says “He (Jesus) had genuine love for him.” Jesus knew he was a good guy, an upstanding citizen and a keeper of The Law of Moses. He also knew this guy was rich and successful and that his Stuff had gotten in the way of his love for God. “Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor. Then, come follow me.” (v.21)
Say what?! This guy is like, (Jessie translation), “But Jesus! I’m a good guy! I haven’t killed. I don’t lie. I honor my parents. I don’t steal. I live a life more decent than most. I’ve never asked for a handout. I’ve worked hard and earned everything I have, and you want me to do what?! Why would God bless me with all this Stuff if He wasn’t going to let me keep it or somehow use it for His glory?”
Although this man had great wealth, his desire for heaven proves he still wasn’t at peace, he wasn’t truly happy.  Perhaps his Stuff wasn’t a blessing from God, but rather earnings from his own doing that God allowed him to possess?  “Every good and perfect gift is from above,” (James 1:17a).  Do we really think every bit of our Stuff is “good and perfect”? 
Jesus goes on to say, “How difficult it is for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God.” (v.23)
Isn’t America considered the wealthiest country in the world?
Like the rich man, we’re collectively saying, “Look, God, we know You’ve blessed America. You’ve given us more than enough of everything. So why can’t we keep our Stuff and be happy, plus get to heaven without having to give anything up?” His reply? (Jessie version)–You can’t. You can’t serve Me and money. (Matt. 6:24) Period. No way around it. It’s either the American dollar or Me. You’re either striving for The Dream or you’re striving for Me. You’re free to choose which, but the consequences are not an option. You can either have the life you create or you can have the abundant life I’ve promised you. 
 
“‘I know the plans I have for you,’ says The Lord, ‘plans for good and not for harm, plans to give you a future and hope.'” (Jeremiah 29:11)
God told Jeremiah in the very same chapter, just a few verses earlier, to tell the Israelites, “Don’t let the false prophets and mediums who are there among you fool you. Don’t listen to the dreams that they invent, for they prophesy lies in my name. I have not sent them, says the Lord.” (Jer. 29:8-9) What exactly were these “dreams” the false prophets invented? Think they had anything to do with how to gain prosperity or how to be happy? And look, they were claiming to do it in the name of The Lord!
 
We can indeed do whatever we set our minds–or our hearts–to. That doesn’t mean we should. (Think Adam and Eve here.)  But what if we set our minds and hearts to seeking after God and Truth and His Freedom? Is that a dream, too, or a promise we can cling to?
You will find me when you seek me, if you look for me in earnest.” Jeremiah 29:13
Does God really mean that?  If we seek Him, will we find Him?
 
Yes, says the Lord, I will be found by you, and I will end your slavery and restore your fortunes…” Jeremiah 29:14
 
Wait a minute! Finally find God, end our slavery and restore our fortunes…? Where do I sign up?! Be careful, though. Read that again. God did NOT say we would be happy or rich. He promises we’d be free and restored.
His promise is for “good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
And He promises to hear us.
 
In those days when you pray, I will listen.” Jeremiah 29:12
This is the pursuit we should be on: Finding God; being listened to by God; gaining freedom from all that enslaves us, like debt and the desire for more; being restored to a right relationship with Him. 
THIS is the real pursuit of happiness.  And it’s not a dream. 

Your Jesus is Showing

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“Let us stop just saying we love;…let us really love…and show it by our actions.”
~1 John 3:18 TLB
 
Something cool happened yesterday. This verse came true right before my eyes. 
 
For the past 8 years now, we’ve hosted a weekly Bible study in our home. Faces have changed during that time, but the group we currently meet with has been solid for over 2 years straight. 
 
Yesterday, they loved with action. 
 
Maybe I’m just encouraged by the growth I’ve witnessed in this group of believers, but yesterday I was overcome with tears of joy because of The Light I saw shining in them.  I’ve seen it in them before, but yesterday I sent a text to the group about a random opportunity to meet a need and they rallied in literally less than 60 seconds. The need was completely met and delivered within a few hours. 
 
When presented with a sudden opportunity to meet a need, this Body of Christ sprang to life.  He was alive in them.  As a group, we’ve talked a lot about what it means to love God with all our heart-soul-mind-strength, and our neighbor as ourselves, but now we’re striving to take the next step by seeking out opportunities to tangibly meet the needs of those around us. 
 
…Moving a needy couple and helping them unpack. 
 
…Teaching a new wife and mother how to grocery shop, cook and do laundry. 
 
…Driving people to church. 
 
…Planning and hosting evangelistic events in the community. 
 
…Donating clothing and school supplies to a teenager in need. 
 
…Preparing and delivering meals to an overwhelmed mother. 
 
…Giving at the drop of a hat for two kids needing t-shirts. 
 
 
I am blessed to walk with such generous and caring people. Other than my husband and myself, the entire group is under the age of 30. This gives me hope. 
 
Our group is by no means perfect. Believe me, we have our moments. We sin.  But we’re trying. We’re consciously seeking to love God with all we are and then love others the same way we want to be loved (Luke 6:31). We encourage one another and support one another throughout the week, not just when we’re together.  This is what the Body of Christ is supposed to do and what we should want to do because of our relationship with Him. 
 
We don’t do so we can get, we do because we have gotten…
 
We have gotten our sins forgiven and our hearts cleansed.  We have gotten our eyes off ourselves and on to others. We have gotten closer to Him and in the process, closer to one another. We have gotten serious about loving Him, and therefore, about obeying Him. 
 
“If you love me, you will obey my commands.” ~ Jesus
John 14:15
 
What are the two greatest commands again?
 
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
~ Matthew 22:36-40
 
These friends of mine love Jesus and it shows. They love Him and they want others to know they love Him.  They want others to know and love Him, too. 
 
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
~ John 13:35
 
Believer, let your Jesus show today. Don’t cover Him up.  Let it all hang out in a shameless example of grace and love toward someone, a stranger even.  Don’t miss an opportunity to let Him live through you today. Look for practical, real ways to bless someone. Do more than just be friendly to that rude cashier; do more than let someone in line during rush hour traffic.  Pick up the phone and give your time and attention to a soul that’s lonely. Cook a little extra this weekend and share it with an overworked neighbor. It doesn’t have to be difficult or super-religious. Just love someone the way you want to be loved and trust the Holy Spirit to do the rest. If you do, you, too will feel loved and be blessed, and your Father in heaven will be glorified.
 
 
“Don’t hide your light!  Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see,
so that they will praise your heavenly Father.” 
~Matthew 5:15-16 TLB
 
Hey, you.  Your Jesus is showing.
Jessie

Sinkholes

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I’ve come across two sinkholes in my life.  I’m not being metaphorical here.   I’ve literally had two ginormous sinkholes crater the roadway near me.  

The first happened about 6 or 7 years ago, on the way to church one Sunday morning.  A  massive section of road literally fell out just moments after we passed over it in our truck.  It measured 40-50 feet in diameter and was estimated to be up to 100 feet deep.
The most recent sinkhole happened about 3 weeks ago, just a few feet from the drive to our home.  Heavy rains caused the creek that runs across our farm to flood, spilling water over the roadway.  Cautiously, a woman in an SUV decided to drive through it, crossing over the creek area where two culverts run underground.  At that moment, the water caused the culverts to shift and the road gave way, sending her SUV into the hole.  She held on for dear life, as the vehicle dangled by its back tires. 
Two dangerous sinkholes within close proximity to me.  Does anyone else find this strange? Obviously, sinkholes catch my attention now.  Like the guy in Florida earlier this year, sleeping in his bed—in his bed, people!—when a massive sinkhole engulfed him, his bed, his bedroom and most of his house.  Check it out here:
Lord, what can I learn from sinkholes?
Like sinkholes, life sometimes just suddenly falls out from under us.  I’ve had many an instance where I thought I was on steady ground and BAM!  Sinkhole!  Even during a storm, I’m usually pretty confident in the ground.  My eyes are focused on the wind, rain, lightening, not the ground beneath me.  The storm is enough; do I really need to worry about the ground, too?

Lesson #1:  If Jesus is The Rock I’m standing on, I don’t have to worry. 

Matthew 7:24-25~ “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”

The lady who drove over the culverts couldn’t see the road was giving way, because it was covered with water.  She’s likely driven that way dozens of times, maybe even in the rain, and never had a problem.  But this time, she had no idea what was shifting beneath the surface, no way of knowing her next move could send her plunging.  Even though it was storming, she felt in control of the situation.

We like to think we know what’s going on, that we’ve got our bearings even in the midst of the storms of life.  But the truth is, we have no idea what’s lurking beneath the surface, no way of knowing what moves to make or which turns to take. 

Lesson #2: I need the omnipotent, all-knowing Lord of Creation to direct my steps.

Proverbs 3:5-6~ “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;in all your ways submit to him,and he will make your paths straight.”

Job 11:7-8~ “Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens above–what can you do? They are deeper than the depths below–what can you know?”

Sometimes we’re terribly aware of the storm and anxiously anticipating the moment the ground gives.  We know the bottom is about to fall out because somewhere down the road, we made poor choices.  We know it’s coming, so we hold on tight and pray for someone to pull us out.  That’s what happened to the woman in front of my house.  Rather than turn back, she made the choice to drive through rushing water.  Once she fell, all she could do was hold on, pray she didn’t slip further, and wait for help.  One of my neighbors risked her own safety and comfort in order to be by this woman’s side.  Eventually, more help arrived and they got her out safely.  As soon as she was out, however, her SUV was totally engulfed by the hole.

Lesson #3: Whether I do something to cause the hole or if it’s unforeseen and completely out of my control, is irrelevant.  Sinkholes happen.
Psalm 25:5~ “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”
In both of my sinkhole experiences, I did not fall nor did anyone else.  (Praise God!)  But what about the guy in Florida?  He did fall. Sometimes, people just fall.  We as believers must be there, as Jesus’ hands and feet, to pull them out.  My neighbor didn’t bombard the woman with questions like, “Why did you do that” or “What were you thinking?”  She simply stayed by her side and held her hand until help arrived. She gave the woman hope. Sometimes that’s all we need to do.  Just hold the hands of those sinking and offer them hope until The Rescuer saves them.
Lesson #4:  No hole is so deep that we can’t be pulled out.
John 4:10~ “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” 
Job 33:28~ “God has delivered me from going down to the pit, and I shall live to enjoy the light of life.”
Here’s a few pictures of what transpired in front of our home.  Pretty scary.  The road is now repaired and back to normal, though our fence and the creek bed still have stories to tell.  I’m thankful no one was seriously injured, in either sinkhole instance, and I’m thankful for what they have taught me.  Hopefully, you too can learn from my sinkholes.
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